Assembling To Protect A World That Loves and Hates Them

Next month, the Marvel universe is starting over, or, at least, parts of it are. There's a whole slew of new #1's, from an Avengers one pictured above, to new Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man volumes, some of it really interesting sounding and some of it, well, less so. What's going on, though, is not a hard reboot, like the kind DC did a little over a year ago with The New 52. It's not really even a soft reboot, either, since no continuity is being reset; instead, many of Marvel's characters are simply entering new phases of their ongoing stories, with new creative teams on the books that star them.

One series, though, is conspicuously absent from the books that have been solicited so far. There has not, at least not as of yet, been an announcement of a new Uncanny X-Men. That book, the flagship of America's second most popular superhero family,has been published with only two interruptions since it first emerged in the early Sixties, and, so, this disruption, the second in as many years, is much more interesting than any of the various and sundry renumberings that are going on, since, for example, this must be the seventh or eighth volume of Captain America and the above images represent, I think, the fourth volume of The Avengers, which is less ridiculous than the fact that we're on the third volume of New Avengers, a title that Marvel has been using for only seven years. Of course, the fact that there's no new volume of Uncanny is sort of explained by the new Uncanny Avengers series, written by Rick Remender, which is premised on a post Avengers vs. X-Men alliance between the two groups.

On its own, that seems like a typical big two throw-anything-at-the-wall-and-see-if-it-sticks sales strategy, but by publishing an Uncanny Avengers without publishing an Uncanny X-Men, that is, by shifting the Uncanny moniker away from its classic association and towards a new brand, I wonder if Marvel is tipping its hand. The whole thing sort of suggests a solidification of holdings, both in corporate and story terms, under the newly, massively, fortified Avengers brand. We've known for a while that Remender's book is going to prominently feature characters from both groups (and art from John Cassaday!). I remember reading a mention I can now no longer find of preview art for a Wolverine and the X-Men issue with a heavy Avengers presence in the Jean Grey school. And, oddest of all, in the interlocking covers for the first three issues of Jonathan Hickman's new Avengers series, Cannonball and Sunspot, two of the New Mutants, are the only featured characters who are not associated with the team in some prominent, iconic way.

This kind of synergy with the rest of the Marvel universe is sort of new for the X-Men, who were sort of left to do their own thing, particularly since they moved across the country and onto Utopia. The cynic in me says its about weakening a brand that the company doesn't totally control, and thereby strengthening the case for the inclusion of some of these characters in upcoming Avengers spin-offs, Fox be damned. I also suspect that, solely in the terms of the economics of comic books, it will be good for sales, since the two franchises are the best selling in all of American comics, and this sort of permanent crossover builds off of both the premise and success of Avengers v. X-Men. I don't know how wide ranging this effect will be, since I don't know how many New Mutants readers there are who don't already Avengers, but I guess you never know.

In story terms, this new synergy presents some interesting questions-- does the acceptance of mutants into the Avengers on a more general basis than Beast and Wolverine mean that mutants are no longer hated and feared by the society they're sworn to protect? Does that mean Xavier's dream is realized? And is that really only possible because the good professor is now, again, dead?*

All that, of course, sets up some really interesting possibilities having to do with Brian Bendis's All New X-Men series, and my whole theory might fall apart in the pages of that book. If it turns out that All New is Uncanny's replacement within the insular X-Men family, it won't be too surprising. But consider that these characters on the covers are all, excepting Magik and Emma and those two in the background**, iconic X-Men, ones that were used in the nineties cartoon, which is still probably the most recognizable group for much of the comics reading public, and certainly for my generation. They're also, again excepting Magik and the two question marks, characters that have been used in movie versions of the characters, so maybe we're not seeing a solidification so much as a kind of shift, which moves many of the excess X-Men under the Avengers umbrella. This could both strengthen the former brand and broaden the latter one, particularly if Bendis can build on the last few years' good work by Kieron Gillen and Jason Aaron, and if Hickman and Remender can manage the onslaught of characters effectively.

I'm surprised to find myself writing this, but I'm actually pretty excited for what comes now-- rather than feeling forced and random, like the New 52, this seems like almost a natural progression, everything seems to fit together, despite the fact that some of the decisions were probably made for artificial reasons. It's All New, and All Different, and that can't possibly be bad.***

*I haven't read Avengers v. X-Men #11 yet, but, when I do, I suspect I'm going to have some very critical things to say about how the book handled the death of Xavier. As an idea moving forward, it's not bad, particularly in the context I'm talking about above, but it doesn't really ring true in terms of the crossover's plot, in part because he shows up absolutely out of nowhere in #10. I don't even think we've seen him since Matt Fraction left Uncanny and his death just doesn't have any gravity, given how unimportant the character's been since Joss Whedon chastised him a few years ago. But maybe they handled it really well. I won't know until I go to my LCS.

**Is that one on the far right Rachel Grey?

***By the way, the powers that be at Marvel, I have a request-- can we get the 616 Nightcrawler back?  Please?

1 comment: